Wednesday, August 24, 2005

What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?

War 'Slogans' On Troops' Graves?

(AP) Traditionally, gravestones for Americans killed in combat have included the minimum information necessary to identify the fallen soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. Almost all the headstones for the more than 2,000 troops killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, however, are inscribed with the slogan-like operation names the Pentagon selected to promote public support for the conflicts.

Families are being told they have the option to have the government-supplied headstones engraved with "Operation Enduring Freedom" or "Operation Iraqi Freedom" at no extra charge, whether their family members are buried in Arlington National Cemetery or elsewhere. A mock-up shown to many families includes the operation names.

Arlington was the first U.S. military cemetery and generally is considered the most prestigious. A huge majority of military gravestones from other eras are inscribed with name, rank, military branch, date of death and, if applicable, the war and foreign country in which the person served and died.

Families are supposed to have final approval over what goes on the tombstones. That hasn't always happened. Nadia and Robert McCaffrey, whose son Patrick was killed in Iraq in June 2004, said "Operation Iraqi Freedom" ended up on his government-supplied headstone without family approval.

"I was a little taken aback," Robert McCaffrey said, describing his reaction when he saw the operation name on his son's tombstone. "They certainly didn't ask my wife; they didn't ask me." He said Patrick's widow told him she had not been asked either. "In one way, I feel it's taking advantage to a small degree," McCaffrey said. "Patrick did not want to be there, that is a definite fact."

The owner of the company that has been making gravestones for Arlington and other national cemeteries for nearly two decades is uncomfortable, too. "It just seems a little brazen that that's put on stones," said Jeff Martell, owner of Granite Industries of Vermont. "It seems like it might be connected to politics."

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it isn't. "The headstone is not a PR purpose. It is to let the country know and the people that visit the cemetery know who served this country and made the country free for us," VA official Steve Muro said.

Since 1997, the government has been paying for virtually everything inscribed on the gravestones. Before that, families had to pay the gravestone makers separately for any inscription beyond the basics.

It wasn't until the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 that the department instructed national cemetery directors and funeral homes across the country to advise families of fallen soldiers and Marines that they could have operation names like "Enduring Freedom" or "Iraqi Freedom" included on the headstones.

VA officials say neither the Defense Department nor the White House exerted any pressure to get families to include operation names. They say families always had the option of including information like battle or operation names but didn't always know it.

"It's just the right thing to do and it always has been, but it hasn't always been followed," said Dave Schettler, director of the VA's memorial programs service.

VA officials say they have no record of how many families have opted to include the operation names. At Arlington, all but a few of the 193 gravestones of Iraq and Afghanistan dead carry the operation names. War casualties also are buried in many of the 121 other national cemeteries and numerous state and private graveyards.

The interment service supervisor at Arlington, Vicki Tanner, said cemetery representatives show families a mock-up of the headstone with "Operation Iraqi Freedom" or "Operation Enduring Freedom" already included and ask their approval.

Former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam and headed the Veterans Administration under President Carter, called the practice "a little bit of glorified advertising."

"I think it's a little bit of gilding the lily," Cleland said, while insisting that he's not criticizing families who want that information included. "Most of the headstones out there at Arlington and around the nation just say World War II or Korea or Vietnam, one simple statement," he said. "It's not, shall we say, a designated theme or a designated operation by somebody in the Pentagon. It is what it is. And I think there's power in simplicity."


*Click the image in this post to see what the new tombstones look like.

2 Comments:

Blogger Mark Rogers said...

shady!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 8:49:00 PM  
Blogger Kirkkitsch said...

Mark Rogers-
I concur. That's not teen spirit I smell. It's propaganda.

Friday, August 26, 2005 9:18:00 AM  

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